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Baroness Warsi warns of Government's "trust deficit" with Muslims

Baroness Warsi warns of Government's "trust deficit" with Muslims

Categories: Latest News

Monday January 26 2015

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi pens a guest column for the Observer this week in which she lambasts the Coalition’s record onengaging with British Muslims since coming to power in 2010. Reflecting on the consequences of the Communities Secretary writing a letter to British imams urging them to exercise their “precious opportunity and important responsibility” to tackle extremism without making any effort to cultivate bonds of friendship and trust or taking seriously Muslim fears over escalating levels of Islamophobia whilst in power, Lady Warsi warns that a “trust deficit” between British Muslims and the Government has emerged.

Lady Warsi raises some interesting facets to the way the Coalition has gone about “engaging” noting the creation of “a high-level committee to decide whether a group or individual was someone ministers could engage with.”

There are no details revealed of who sat on this committee and what authority they possessed to pronounce judgment on so important an issue as Government engagement with the largest faith community after Christians.

Lady Warsi also discloses the disagreements arising from the high-level committee’s judgments and the rigour of its due diligence stating, “Both the setting up of this committee and its less than impressive non-evidence-based submissions divided colleagues in the cabinet.”

The divisions in Cabinet over the Government’s policy on engaging with Muslims was evident from the outset following the appalling speech delivered by PM David Cameron in Munich on “muscular liberalism” and a vastly different angle taken by the Deputy PM Nick Clegg in a speech delivered in Luton days later.

Divisions in cabinet were also outlined by Peter Oborne in a column in the Spectator in February 2011. Oborne wrote of the ‘factions’ in Cabinet consisting of Michael Gove’s Celsius 7/7 thesis devotees,  George Osborne, Dr Liam Fox, Oliver Letwin and Theresa May, and their detractors Baroness Warsi, Nick Clegg and former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve.

In his Munich speech in 2011, Cameron said, “We need to think much harder about who it’s in the public interest to work with.  Some organisations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism.”

The argument is retrospectively amusing given that those organisations who have been lavished with public funds by the Coalition and who have presented themselves as “moderate” Muslims voices are precisely those who have “do[ne] little to combat extremism.”

But the logic was never pragmatic, only ever ideological and while “extremist” Muslim organisations have been painstakingly scrutinised over their compliance with “British values”, the work of so called counter-extremism think tanks has rarely beenrigorously challenged.

Lady Warsi points out the idiocy of a strategy that “view[s] ever-increasing numbers of Muslim organisations or individual activists with suspicion and dangerously narrow[s] engagement to a dozen people from a community of more than three million.”

It is little surprise that Lord Ashcroft in his study on the appeal of the Conservative Party to BME voters found that 35.15% of Muslims said they would never consider voting Conservative, second highest after those of ‘no religion’.

And given the serious failings in Government over action on Islamophobia, it is unlikely that the party will fare any better in the upcoming general election. Indeed, Warsi notes that “not a single major government speech has reflected the concerns, worries and, yes, fear within the British Muslim community.”

Lady Warsi shows that the Coalition’s approach has not been consistent comparing its attitude to the Muslim Council of Britain to its engagement with the Jewish Leadership Council. Both organisations are communal representative bodies and both have detractors within their own communities with other large communal organisations disputing their respective claims to being ‘representative’. Nonetheless, while the MCB’s representative status has been perennially contested, the Government has taken a very different tack with the JLC.

Baroness Warsi states: “An incredibly good blueprint already exists within government: the prime minister has an annual meeting led by the Jewish leadership council where a whole range of issues affecting the British Jewish community are discussed. I’ve had the privilege of being part of these meetings with the prime minister. I’ve argued for a long time that the prime minister should hold a similar meeting with other major faith communities. Sadly this has not been forthcoming.”

Whether it is the Conservative party’s stance on Palestine, its lacklustre record on challenging Islamophobia, or the party’s failure to put its heart into engaging with Muslim voters, it faces a steep uphill battle in reversing the “trust deficit” which could cost it an election.


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